Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Speak Out Against Police/FBI Repression of Environmentalists

When and Where : June 14, 2006, 11am, Augusta State House - Outside between State House and Cross BuildingWhat: National Lawyers Guild Statement on recent police DNA requests of environmental activists in the state, and the bill just passed creating a new class of felony if an act of criminal mischief has political intent or consequence. Present at the conference will be activists approached by police, as well as close to thirty organizations statewide who support the NLG statement.Contacts: Phil Worden 276-3318 Lynne Williams 542-0133, both Guild lawyers, Maine chapter


Groups Claim Police and Legislators Are Seeking to Silence Public Outrage Over Environmental DestructionAugusta, Maine. In conjunction with the release of a letter to the attorney general and the governor by the Maine National Lawyers Guild, citizens representing over a dozen groups working on social and environmental justice issues around the state will gather on the steps of the State House at 11am on Wednesday, June 14, to condemn the “chilling effect on dissent” the recent wave of legislative and police actions the groups believe are threatening the basic free speech rights of Maine people.

The letter written by the Maine Chapter of the National Lawyer Guild, and already signed by 16 groups, calls the Attorney General and the Governor to task on a recent pattern of legislative and police oppression directed toward those opposing the environmental policies of the Baldacci Administration and major out-of-state corporations. This pattern includes:

1) The late-night, end of the session enactment of LD1789 “An Act to Amend the Crime of Aggravated Criminal Mischief,” which creates a new felony-level category of crime targeting politically motivated acts. While the final wording of the bill, created in a late-night legislative compromise, softened earlier language that would have created the crime of “Environmental Terrorism.” The intent and effect of the bill, says the NLG, remain the same.” LD 1789, signed into law by Governor Baldacci on May 30th, 2006, assigns penalties of up to five years in prison as well as a maximum $5,000 fine.

2) The motivation and constitutionality of an ongoing state police investigation into alleged vandalism incurred by Seattle-based Plum Creek Corporation last Halloween. State Police investigators have attempted to interview at least a dozen critics of Plum Creek’s plan around the state. In each case, the critics were visited at their home or place or work and asked about their political affiliations, views on the project, and asked for a DNA sample. Plum Creek is seeking state approval for a massive development in the Moosehead Lake Region.

3) Unprecedented police and judicial response to acts of civil disobedience. This includes the State’s unprecedented decision to seek jail time in the case of Hillary Lister of Athens and a recent police invasion of Sears Island where activists allegedly were setting up a camp to call for the Island’s permanent preservation. Lister was arrested in the House of Representatives in early April for an act of non-violent civil disobedience protesting LD141, a bill that enables significant burning of out-of-state construction and demolition debris in Maine.

Concern about these recent events and other challenges to free speech has drawn cooperation and support from a broad range of groups ranging from the Clean Maine Coalition to the Maine Coalition for Peace and Justice, who are united in their concerns about political witch hunts akin to the “Red Scare” of the McCarthy era, where citizens were targeted based on their political affiliations.
According to Sean Donahue of the Bangor area group PICA (Peace through Interamerican Community Action), who was assembled along side others at the state house today, said, “Repressive policies tested out in Latin America are coming home. Since 2001, governments in countries like Colombia and El Salvador have been using the fear of terrorism to justify treating dissidents as criminals, arresting and harassing labor, human rights, and environmental activists. Now I am seeing the FBI and the State Police treat my friends in Maine as terrorists and criminals because they love the land enough to speak out against the corporations that are destroying it."

According to Phil Worden, an attorney representing some of the targeted activists, “The fact that the Maine state police have not sought a search warrant in their attempts to get DNA samples strongly suggests that they do not have probable cause, and are merely on a ‘fishing expedition’. It’s important for Maine residents to understand that they do not need to speak nor cooperate with the police unless they have a warrant. If police have a legitimate suspicion, then they should get a warrant. Otherwise, this is harassment based on political affiliation – something we cannot tolerate in this state.


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